Expert's top five tips for keeping children safe online in 2023

Corien Vermaak's top five tips for keeping kids safe online in 2023.
Photo credit: Getty Images

Despite New Zealand's literally disastrous start to the year, for most of the country our kids are back at school and already well into the 2023 curriculum.

That means many of them are using new tech devices, getting online more and being exposed to the dangers of the internet.

It's an ideal time for parents to freshen up on how to keep their children safe online.

Corien Vermaak is the director for cybersecurity for Cisco Australia and New Zealand, holds a master's degree in law specialising in cybercrime and data privacy and is the author of a book entitled Hacker Mom: The Practical Guide to Keeping Your Kids Safe Online.

She told Newshub an important thing to remember for parents is you can't give a child an initial lesson in internet safety and then leave them to it - you have to constantly be involved with your child's online development.

"We don't give our children car keys and say, 'Go learn to drive'. We sit next to them through the process," said Vermaak.

"When parents give their children access to things like YouTube, it's important to set the guidance rules for the first phase, then continue to review the content they're consuming with them and keep reiterating your morals and your home rules.

"It should be a constant involvement."

Vermaak also discussed with Newshub her top five tips for keeping kids safe online this year:

Know the power of the 'like'

"Children 'like' content firstly to express that they've seen it, but also because they've been told to. There's what's almost a YouTube indoctrination that children get on an ongoing basis that they've got to 'like and subscribe' - but what we're not doing is we're not taking a step back and asking what does that 'like' mean?" said Vermaak.

"That 'like' is an endorsement. It is a way of giving that content a stage by applauding its creator. It elevates that conversation, giving the creator more power in terms of what they can say and what is okay." 

Vermaak said it is "extremely important" that children understand this concept from a young age because, later on, they can be liable for liking or sharing posts that are problematic or defamatory.

"We must teach children that we only 'like' things that we agree with and that sit well with us," she said.

"We really need to continue building on this message and have an ongoing conversation about content that they 'like' because later on there's real repercussions."

A stranger is a stranger

"We start with telling young children that we don't talk to strangers, but later - when they're aged 9 to 14 - we need to teach them that somebody isn't necessarily who they say they are," said Vermaak.

"We need to start talking to our children about how easy it is to make a fake profile. If someone starts talking to you in private messages, they might not be who they say they are and that can be a very dangerous situation."

Vermaak said that in their later teens, people will start talking to strangers online and likely meeting up with them in real life.

When they reach that stage, she said it's important to put safeguards in place such as digitally sharing their real-time location with their parents and showing mum or dad a picture of what the person looks like they're going to meet. 

Embrace #nofilter and authentic behaviour

"Unfortunately, we are raising a generation that is striving for perfection that is unachievable. We have stopped celebrating things like freckles and life lines on faces, but bodies have folds and blemishes and that all of that is actually beautiful," said Vermaak.

"We've stopped celebrating true beauty by applying these filters to our photos and it puts our children in this ever-striving 'I am not good enough' mechanism.

"Let's start just being real, being ourselves and modeling that for our children. Ask them: 'Did you really need that filter?'

"Tell them: 'I think your freckles are beautiful' or 'You know, nobody has lashes like that'. 

"It's something that I am truly passionate about because this has an influence on the mental health of our youth. Part of keeping children safe online is helping them develop into a digital citizen that is real, happy with who they are and who can see the fakeness that comes with the online world."

It's a great time for parents to freshen up on internet safety.
Photo credit: Getty Images

Can it go on a billboard?

"When a child or young person is playing an online game or using a messaging app and says something unkind, we need to call them out," said Vermaak. 

"Ask them: 'If we took a screenshot of that and put it up on the board at your school showing how you spoke to that person, how would your heart feel?' 

"Give the child the visual image that if the message went up on a big screen in their class. Also ask how the person they said the unkind thing to would feel when other people see how they'd been spoken to."

Privacy is your right

"Privacy is your right. It's one of the oldest human rights that we've underwritten as a civilisation and you can't give that up - even though our children don't value privacy anymore," said Vermaak.

She explained that many children grow up with parents posting their photos online, or their school or friends posting their photos online without first gaining consent.

But it's important to teach children that they have the right to say no to that.

Doing so will lay important foundations as it becomes a more serious issue when young people develop and experiment with sharing intimate pictures with someone they think they can trust.

"What I ask parents is to teach their children the principles of privacy that are their rights, and they don't have to give them up. You know, people can't take a photo of me without my consent, people can't share a photo of me without my consent," said Vermaak.

"This is not groundbreaking - it's really basic, but we need to remind the younger generation of the value of their privacy."


We're still in the back-to-school phase of the year in which a lot of youngsters have gotten their hands on cool new devices like iPads.

While these are great for learning and developing exciting skills, they can present new dangers for children and it's important parents keep up with the latest safety tools.

Apple along with the likes of Xbox offer robust tools for parents to monitor and restrict their children's use of the internet - but it's always important to stay abreast of changes to those tools and keep devices updated.

the latest update for iPad - iPadOS 16 - includes the following features:

  • Improved child account setup
    Set up an account for a child with the right parental controls, from the start, including easy‑to‑use, age‑appropriate suggestions for media restrictions.
  • Device setup for kids
    Use Quick Start to easily set up a new iOS or iPadOS device for your child with all the appropriate parental controls already in place.
  • Screen Time requests in Messages
    Screen Time requests from your kids now appear in Messages, so it's easy to approve or decline a request.
  • Family Checklist
    Family Checklist gives you helpful tips and suggestions like updating a child's settings as they get older, turning on location sharing or just reminding you that you can share your iCloud+ subscription with everyone.